The Father of Microcredit

You’ve heard how microcredit was born. In a nation long shackled by British rule and wracked by famine, a brilliant man was seized with a desire to strike a blow against the poverty all about him. Defying common sense and the skepticism of his colleagues, he began lending tiny sums out of his own pocket to poor people, which they were to invest in tiny businesses. He demanded no collateral, only the vouchsafe of the borrowers’ peers. The borrowers rewarded his faith with punctual repayment. In time, his experiment spawned a national movement that delivered millions of loans to poor men and women and broke the power of money lenders.

The hero of this story is…Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels.

Swift developed the main ideas of microcredit–small sums, co-signers on the loan who knew the recipient, loans to women–in the 1730s.  Although the system did not grow large in his lifetime, by the 1840s Irish microcredit institutions served a fifth of the population of Ireland.

The quote and information are from David Roodman’s excellent book Due Diligence: An Impertinent Inquiry into Microfinance. Roodman is a  remarkable scholar, equally at ease collecting information in the slums of Bangladesh as writing complex computer code, and Due Diligence is a very good book not just on microcredit but on development more generally.

(Loyal readers may recall that Tyler also noted Swift’s connection to  microcredit in a post from 2006.)


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